It has been over fifty years since the first welds were made in space by Soviet cosmonauts on Soyuz-6 in October of 1969. The United States performed bead-on-plate welding, brazing, and metal melting experiments onboard the Skylab orbital space station several years later in 1973. Finally, Soviet cosmonauts departed their Salyut-7 capsule and made the first (and last) welds in open space in 1984. Progress on further demonstrations of welding in space stagnated, and subsequent microgravity welding research work shifted to lower-cost earth-based experiments that include drop towers and parabolic flights. With the advent of the International Space Station, relevant microgravity research was undertaken in the field of metal solidification science, and limited studies of brazing and soldering were undertaken; however, no welds have ever been on the Space Station. Therefore, it has been almost 40 years since a weld was made in space. Much like terrestrial construction and manufacturing industries, welding, joining, and allied processes will be enabling technologies for In-space Assembly and Manufacturing (ISAM) in the nascent “Space Economy”, a sector that is expected to approach a value of 10^12 USD within the next decade. It is critical that the welding and joining research community, along with the welding industry, engages the space industry to advance the understanding of those critical manufacturing processes which must be evaluated and matured in the extreme environments of space. Such environments include variable gravity (microgravity in low earth orbit, 0.17 gravity on the lunar surface, and 0.38 gravity on the Martian surface), reduced pressure (extreme vacuum in space and the lunar surface to a predominantly CO2 atmosphere on Mars), and extreme temperatures (between 40 and 400 K). Past experiments and analyses are reviewed to suggest requirements that the welding and joining community should target to make strides on closing the current space welding gaps. Efforts to continue welding in space are currently underway at NASA in conjunction with academia and industry. Those efforts are explored along with future agency goals which are seen as opportunities to engage the welding community on this historic effort.
Keywords: in-space assembly and manufacturing; welding in space